Fort Carson has served more than a half-century as a versitile location for Army training missions such as this Warrior Leader Course situational exercise. But all of Fort Carson’s assets and missions will face re-evaluation in the next Base Realignment and Closure process when the pressure will be on Colorado Springs to prove its worthiness as a home for multiple military installations.

New opportunities and aid for local veterans, service members and their families are now available, as partnerships and efforts to empower and provide high-quality care to the military community expand in the Pikes Peak region.

El Paso County’s 80,000 veterans and 40,000 active duty personnel and their spouses can utilize free financial, legal and behavioral assistance and now even cybersecurity training at no cost due to the growing coordination and collaboration among local organizations such as Peak Military Care Network, Mt. Carmel Center for Excellence and The Home Front Cares.

According to Kate Hatten, chief executive officer of PMCN, the nonprofit now has 36 partner agencies, helping centralize and extend information and resources across the community.

“I think there has been an uptick in interest in partner agencies, trying to work together to meet the broad needs of service members and their families,” she said. “I think it’s been very successful in terms of sharing information and training on veteran and military issues and culture.”

PMCN partners including AspenPointe, El Paso County and the Pikes Peak Workforce Center participate in monthly meetings combined with training on military trends, issues and resources to enhance communication and veterans services.

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“This really helps increase the community’s capacity to meet the unique needs of our military and veteran community,” Hatten said.

On Sept. 24, the VA will conduct a welcome-home event and community resource fair at the PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom Clinic, 3141 Centennial Blvd., open to the public and to recent-conflict veterans needing information on VA programs and benefits.

Local representatives from veterans service organizations, colleges and community providers will be in attendance, according to a news release.

“The VA is working with the community for the resource fair that coincides with the second anniversary of the [opening of the] local VA clinic,” Hatten said.

VetSuccess Academy

With 209,000 unfilled cybersecurity positions in the U.S. and 422,000 military veterans without jobs nationwide (according to the 2015 Veteran Economic Opportunity Report), the SANS Institute, United Service Organizations and Rally Point 6 have teamed up to offer Colorado Springs’ transitioning service members and active duty spouses advanced technical training, in the form of certifications via Global Information Assurance Certification.

Military members less than six months away from separation and veterans who have been out of the military for less than five years and who are not currently working in the information security field can begin the application process at Applications are due Sept. 30.

Because active duty spouses also experience career challenges amid constant moves, the program is open to spouses not working in the information security field, according to Kylee Durant, chief operating officer of RP/6.

The three- to four-month program will consist of training, certifications, mentorship and job placement opportunities in cybersecurity.

“The military spouse population also has qualified individuals who could gain critical industry certifications related to cybersecurity through the SANS VetSuccess Academy,” she said. “SANS is committed to ensuring minority populations (including women and military spouses) are given the opportunity to participate in training that will lead to meaningful and sustainable employment.”

About 10-12 candidates will be selected and courses will begin on Oct. 24 at the USO space at Mt. Carmel.

“Colorado Springs is home to several major military installations, including Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base and the Air Force Academy,” Durant said. “A strong partnership with the local military installations provided the perfect opportunity to expand the VetSuccess Academies.”

A solid foundation

Basic life essentials are a must before a veteran can look for a job, according to Christina Webb, development manager for The Home Front Cares.

“When a veteran doesn’t even know where his or her family is going to sleep that night, if they will have heat during the winter or a car to get to work or school he or she can’t even begin to think about writing a resumé or filling out school applications,” she said.

And inadequate income can trigger a string of events that make finding gainful employment even more difficult, Webb said.

“Housing loss, transportation or phone coverage can hamstring efforts to make and sustain contact with potential employers,” she said. “Loss of credit may also impact some employers’ hiring decisions.”

THFC has been providing financial assistance to military families in Colorado since 2003 and, according to Webb, has seen the need shift from primarily active duty families to post-military veterans.

“The needs have not changed, they have only increased,” she said. “We are making sure that a veteran is able to continue going to work in order to provide for his or her family.”

Since its inception, the 501(c)3 has raised more than $7.6 million and helped thousands of military and veteran families pay for car repairs, gas, rent and utilities.

Last fiscal year, THFC granted over $400,000, Webb said.

In some circumstances, THFC provides assistance for non-emergency needs because it’s “the right thing to do” at the time, she said.

“We have paid for a veteran to participate in a ski program for amputees, covered travel expenses for low-income, out-of-state families who want to attend Fort Carson’s memorial services for lost loved ones, and have provided payment for a certification class to provide a client the training he needed to find better employment,” Webb said.

Even though we are getting farther from Sept. 11, 2001, with each passing day, the needs of veterans are not going away, Webb said.

“We are so grateful to live in such a generous community,” she said. “Let us never forget the sacrifices that have been made by our military, and let us continue to support them in their time of need.” n CSBJ